Review: Spoon “Transference”

I can’t remember the first time I listened to Spoon. It was probably shortly after 2002’s Kill The Moonlight, and the fact that I own every album they’ve put out since then is a rare occurrence these days. Britt Daniel, Spoon’s frontman, has worked hard to elevate Spoon up to the indie royalty status they now enjoy. I mean, they’re one of the very few bands that constantly release solid follow-up albums. Nearly a decade since my first exposure, Spoon still carries weight in my over-crowded record bin. However, their 7th LP, Transference is a breath of fresh air for the band, and a welcome evolution to the band’s sound.

For the past few records, it’s safe to describe a Spoon album as…well, exactly that, “a Spoon album.” The clean production, the snappy beats and the hooky riffs that all came tightly together on every LP. It was a constant I could always count on, like Tom Selleck’s glorious mustache or the unholy suck-factor of Keystone Light. So, when Transference first pumped through my speakers, I was surprisingly shocked at how it sound so different, yet oddly familiar at the same time. This is the first LP to be solely produced by Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, and it feels like a wonderfully personal sound. What we get is a Spoon album that is an exceptional stand-out from all of their previous work.

There’s no denying that it’s still a Spoon record. The band’s signature sound is still intact, especially on tracks like “Written In Reverse” and “Is Love Forever?” where the staccato beats take some blissfully sharp turns and always manages to result in head-nodding. But occasionally the mix gets a little rough and the instrumentation becomes subtlety more than just two-beat pop songs. Its tracks like “Who Makes Your Money,” “The Mystery Zone,” and the surprising ballad that is “Goodnight Laura.” And the results are an album that still shows you the Spoon you know and love, but it gives the band some much needed stretching room, and let’s them approach their music from a slightly different angle.

Transference simply maintains Spoon’s pedigree, by releasing yet another solid album. So, those looking for more, won’t come away disappointed. It’s just the slight differences in the production and songwriting that really make this a Spoon album to take heed of. And it’s a great way for Spoon to start off the new decade.

-Chase

Review: Vampire Weekend “Contra”

I think reviewing music has made me pessimistic over the past few years. I find that even my favorite band’s next album is bound to disappoint. Take 2009 for example. I was thinking the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic was going to let me down, as their previous LP, but it rocked and completely restored my faith in them. But on the other hand, my suspicions were confirmed when Peal Jam’s Backspacer sounded like an Eddie Vedder summer mix….which was not a good thing. Now, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore record, Contra, looms before me. To be honest, I was a little less pessimistic about this record than my previous examples. It took me a while to warm up to VW’s self-titled debut, but now a few choice cuts stand out on my summer playlists.

The first thing that is fairly obvious about Contra is that it tries hard to stand apart from the light afro-beat infused sound of it’s predecessor. I mean REALLY hard. It seems like the best way to accomplish this was to bring in the synths. Most of Contra is bubbling with hard synthesized beats and riffs, which is what is going to polarize it’s audience. On one side, you have those who appreciate this new direction. The songs are more beat heavy, but they still manage to capture that brisk, light sound you look for in Vampire Weekend. Ezra Koenig’s voice still bounces up and down the scale triumphantly. And his lyrics are still filled with the double speak and clever comparisons he offered up last time. Songs like “White Sky” and “Horchata” will brighten your day.

But then there is the other side……and it happens to be the side I drifted towards. This is the side that can find the synth to be too much. Maybe it’s the production’s fault, but the beats are too loud. So the clever afro-beat instrumentation I warmed up to the first time gets drowned out. Songs like “Giving Up The Gun” and the Auto-Tuned “California English” just grate against my ears, causing me to turn the volume. Occasionally, the instruments win out (“Taxi Cab,” and the good “Diplomat’s Son”),and the album shines for me. But those moments are few and far between.

I’m not going to dissuade anyone from listening to Contra. It’s simply not a bad album. But, for me anyway, it is also not a great one. After their debut, I was hoping VW’s follow up would sound something like a Fela Kuti demo, sprinkled with a dash of Pavement. But, that’s not what the band seemed to be on board with. Instead, they’ve set out to sail on their own boat, doing a decent job of separating themselves from the rest of the fleet. I’m just not sure I want to keep my boarding pass anymore.

-Chase

Favorite Albums of 2009 (Chase)

Right now, I feel like a lazy bastard. 2009 is passing by, and the most remarkable event of the year for me was seeing Billy Ray Cyrus in a Starbucks. However, all my inaction allowed for me to soak up all the music and beer that arose this year.

It’s hard for me to imagine a busier year in music. With a slew of long awaited follow-ups (Flaming Lips, Eminem, Sonic Youth), new side projects (Bad Lieutenant, Beak, Them Crooked Vultures) and music news in general ( Blur reuniting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, Oasis split, Michael Jackson’s death), 2009 really out did itself.

I’ve put my picks of the year, in no particular order, below.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2009

Dan Deacon “Bromst”

Coming strong of the ridiculous, and often too much to handle Spiderman of the Rings, Dan Deacon set off to blow minds. Well, that what Bromst did for me anyway. A musical venture to Toon Land that never seems to run out of energy.

Flaming Lips “Embryonic”

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my Flaming Lips to heavily doped out. For the past two records, it seemed the Lips had decided to leave the psycho-tropics out of the recording studio. We here at SiA are pleased to annouce that with Embryonic, drug-induced music made a come back, and the Lips revitalized themselves. Hurrah!

DOOM “Born Like This”

Since 2005, the Supervillain himself, MF DOOM, seemed to fall off the face of the earth. Earlier this year, he dropped the “MF” from his name and unleashed his best solo outing to date upon the world. Featuring some excellent J Dilla production and unprecedented DOOM flow, it was a most welcome return.

Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavilion”
Album after album, Animal Collective manage to hone their experimental music in to a finer degree. MWPP is an instant classic. It’s one of those career defining albums that will be a benchmark for the band’s potential. After this can only be mind shattering greatness, or disappointment.

Grizzly Bear “Veckatimest”

Before Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear proved that they were a great atmospheric band. But previous albums failed to make it past a 3 month rotation. This one, however, is different. GB forged together a great pop record, while maintaining that atmosphere the indie crowd tends to admire.

Raekwon “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2
Good hip-hop is hard to come by these days. I’ve had Ghostface Killah carrying the torch for the past few years, but his recent stumbles had me worried. Have no fear, Raekwon is here! The long awaited follow-up exceeds all expectations, and is one the best hip-hop records in the past 3 years.

Tom Waits “Glitter and Doom Live”
The Gravely One rarely tours, and his sold-out tour across America last year was not to be missed. Sadly, I did. Thankfully, snippets from the tour have been pieced together on this most excellent of live albums. His voice harsh as ever, his stage banter still supreme, and alternate versions of recent songs and classics make Glitter and Doom Live essential to fans of……well, music.
Dirty Projectors “Bitte Orca”
To say that the Dirty Projectors’ music is eccentric, is a bit of an understatement. Starts, stops, blips, beeps, and occasionally incomprehensible lyrics can scare some people off. Bitte Orca saw the group tighten things up a bit, and put out a stellar record worth hundreds of revisits. No wonder why David Byrne loves them so.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Animal Collective

No one really grabbed 2009 by the nuggets quite like Animal Collective did. They started off by releasing some of the best music of the year/their career in January with Merriweather Post Pavilion. Next, they supported that album with a great tour across the nation, with several major festival stops. They compiled an excellent box set of their work. And they finish the year strong with the 30+ minute Fall Be Kind EP, which shows that MWPP wasn’t their creative peak!

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

Eminem’s Return To Music
I can admit, I’m not that big of an Eminem fan. His first few albums were juvenile, fun, somewhat creative and always interesting. His issues with self-image and drug abuse led him to rehab and a few years out of the limelight. 2009 was supposed to be his big comeback, but all we got was Relapse. A record with half-assed writing, mediocre beats and an Em seems to have lost all relevance to the music world. Sure it sold well, but ultimately the record was a creative failure. Maybe if I were 14 again I would have crowned him king, instead I’m just sharpening the guillotine.

-Chase

25 Favorite Albums of 2009 (Chris)

The placement of the top 5 is absolute.  Everything else shifts around a bit. There were others, but these were the ones that left the biggest hole in my brain.  My apologies to Animal Collective.  I still love you (that new EP is great!), but I guess “MPP” didn’t stick with me like it did every other person in the world.  No EPs or singles (which leaves out a bunch of awesome dance and dubstep records, unfortunately).  I’m bummed that I STILL haven’t heard the new Fuck Buttons or Califone.  This was honed from a list of about 60, so if it’s on here, it’s worth your time (maybe).  Like Nas said, you can hate me now.

25. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head

24. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

23. Pan American – White Bird Release

22. The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage

21. Junior Boys – Begone Dull Care

20. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

19. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

18. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II

17. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

16. The Juan Maclean – The Future Will Come

15. Khanate – Clean Hands Go Foul

14. Girls – Album

13. Atlas Sound – Logos

12. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm

11. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

10. Kylesa – Static Tensions

9. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another

8. Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade

7. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

6. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

5. William Basinski – 92982

4. Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country

3. Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem

2. Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions

1. Clark – Totems Flare

Climate Control: The Next Massive Attack LP

I should probably disclose my relationship with Massive Attack. I discovered them as a companion to the mass amounts of Portishead I was listening to my freshman year of college. And a year later, they were the sole soundtrack to my life while I was engaging in “less than desirable” behavior. Once I shed my extreme debauchery skin, I found that Massive Attack may just be too dangerous to listen to. So, I shelved them for about 3 years, fearing relapse. Since then, I’ve found that I can dip my toes back into the troubled waters that are Massive Attack.

All that time, I was awaiting another album from the Britons ( at one time reduced to a single Briton). In 2006, I was teased with the single “False Flags,” thinking an album announcement was just around the corner. Instead, I got utter silence, and the trip-hop voices in my head began to demand satisfaction. Fast forward to 2009, and I’m teased yet again with the release of another proper LP. While the group now says “spring 2010,” they did deliver upon us the Splitting the Atom EP, which has raised more questions than answered.

The EP only puts forth two new songs, alongside two remixes. It’s safe to say, that Massive Attack are still able to produce that “sexy, slow crawl” trip-hop sound. “Pray For Rain” is a curious number featuring the vocals of TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. The song is built around a strong, off-time drum beat, and features and excellent breakdown in the middle. It’s a definite slow burn, building up tension over it’s 6 minutes, before fading out at the end. It’s nothing really revolutionary for the genre. Actually, it sounds like it came off the stellar 1995 album Maxinquaye, by former Massive Attack collaborator, Tricky. Which, may not be new, is still a sound I’d love to welcome back into my life.

The title track, “Splitting The Atom,” is probably a better preview of what Massive Attack’s fifth LP will sound like. It’s shows us a Massive Attack that still builds a good atmosphere, but fails to really offer up any stand out moments. It’s a song that seems like it’s building up to a great pay off, only to simply end.

I’m still not willing to say that I’m disappointed with Splitting The Atom. However, it doesn’t exactly put my mind at ease. With the return of original member Mushroom, I still have hopes that a memorable Massive Attack LP is on the way. I’m just worried that they’re only shooting for middle rung material these days. But if 2010 passes us by, sans Massive Attack release, I’m probably just going to have to quiet those trip-hop ghosts and accept that Massive Attack just couldn’t survive in the new millennia.

-Chase

Nine Inch Nails “Mr. Self Destruct” (Live @ Webster Hall, NYC)

*Jaw drops*

Chris Piercy

James Chance and The Contortions “I Can’t Stand Myself” (1978)

New York’s No Wave scene of the late ’70s is often portrayed as a lot of atonal and un-funky noise buggery, typified by such bands as Mars, DNA, and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks (all admittedly terrific atonal and un-funky noise buggers).  Yet, there was one lily white James Brown wannabe who danced through the puddles of piss and waves of feedback to bring the unsmiling art types a bit of groove: James Chance (a.k.a. James White).  Certainly, this was still not quite as accessible as the Talking Heads’ parallel forays into funk, but The Contortions’ music helped to bridge the aural divide between the two Eno-approved camps.  It should be noted that Chance was a bit more confrontational than David Byrne.  It’s hard to imagine Byrne physically challenging Robert Christgau during a concert. 

Of course, as much as I dig The Contortions, it would be pretty foolish to pretend that their version is better than James Browns’ original.  It’s not quite a fair fight.  So here is the mustachioed(!) sex machine performing a medley of his hits (including “I Can’t Stand Myself) on a 1974 episode of “Midnight Special”:

And, of course, here’s Eddie Murphy:

Chris Piercy